A Short Guide to Fitting Your Backpack

Trekker on the Jatbula Trail | Shaana McNaught
Trekker on the Jatbula Trail | Shaana McNaught

The two most important pieces of trekking equipment—your footwear and your pack—are also the hardest to select and adjust. In a previous blog we offered some advice on selecting and buying footwear. Today, we’re going to look at backpacks.

These days, backpacks come in hundreds of shapes and sizes, but there are a few basics for getting one that fits correctly. Number one is fitting your torso (and not your height).


The Waistbelt

The key consideration when fitting a pack is that the weight-bearing waist straps need to rest comfortably on your iliac crest (the top of your hip bones). When trying on a pack, put the waistbelt on and set the top edge of the waistbelt so it sits about an inch above the iliac crest. This is where you’ll be carrying the load.

Tighten the waist belt. The waistbelt should feel snug but not tight. It certainly shouldn’t pinch the hips. Make sure that the padded sections of the waistbelt sit on top of your iliac crest. You might have to adjust both the waistbelt and the shoulder straps several (or more) times to get the correct fit. That’s okay. The more you adjust the pack, the more familiar with it you’ll become, and you definitely want to become good friends with your pack.

To make sure that the waistbelt is long enough, the padding should reach a point in front of your iliac crest. If the padding doesn’t extend at least a couple of inches in front of your hips, the waistbelt is too short.

Also check that the centre buckle at the front has room to be adjusted. If it doesn’t, you might need to try a pack with a larger waistbelt.


The Shoulder Straps

With the pack on and sitting on your hips, tighten (pull down on) the shoulder straps. The shoulder straps should be snug, but they should not bear much weight. Shoulder straps that carry a lot of weight can create neck, shoulder and back problems.

When the pack is on, the shoulder straps wrap over your shoulders and should meet the pack about 1 to 2 inches below the top of your shoulders—essentially at the top of your shoulder blades.

If they wrap over your shoulders and down your back for more than a few inches the pack is probably too small. Play with your shoulder straps (play with everything!). It’s really important that get used to your pack as something that can be adjusted, not something whose shape and positioning are set in stone.


Load Lifter Straps

Load lifter straps connect the top of the shoulder straps to the top of the pack. When they are tightened to the optimum amount, they should angle back to the pack at roughly 45 degrees. These straps are designed to balance the load. Don’t over tighten them.


Sternum Straps

The sternum straps should lie across your chest about an inch below your collar bone. Tighten them. When they are adjusted correctly, you should have ample room to move your arms.

Don’t tighten the sternum straps too much. This can make other parts of the suspension system be out of balance, and it can affect your chest and breathing.


Constantly Check Adjustments

Once you are on the trail (hopefully for training before your big trip), play with all your straps. Start with the waistbelt and shoulder straps. You should try a variety of positions and adjustments. If you adjusted your pack in the store or at home, there might be some tweaks you can do on the trail that make it fit better—and thus be more comfortable—as you move.

Many higher-end packs nowadays offer adjustable torsos, which is a great idea if you’re going to be sharing the pack or if you’re buying a pack for a young person who’s still growing. Also, seek help at your gear shop. The staff are there to help you find the right size pack.

And remember, women-specific packs are available. These have small torsos and are often good for young trekkers as well.

The most important characteristic is to have a pack you can snug against your back. The goal is to have your cargo not jostling around.



backpack, fitting backpacks, backpacking, shoulder straps, backpack fitting

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